Of all the Hudson Valley’s historic towns and villages, Hudson may be the most colorful. Before the American Revolution, it was a tiny farming community with less than a dozen families, who called it Claverack Landing. But shortly after that war, a couple of Nantucket businessmen looking to cash in on the worldwide whaling boom sailed in; they found two bays deep enough to handle whaling ships and plenty of land on which to build a port city, renamed the area, and turned Hudson into one of the most important whaling centers in the country for more than a half-century.
It wasn’t just a two-man show, however; Whalers needed a lot of support from ship-builders, sail-makers, rope-makers, whale-oil producers, and other workers, all of whom needed beer. And thus, Hudson had a thriving brewery business and more than 100 bars at one time — along with many of the, as we said, colorful characters who typically populate such establishments. But then came the demise of whaling, with Prohibition quick to follow, and the Hudson that once was slipped into the past.
Try a flight.
Now well into its second act as a thriving river city, it’s hard to believe that, until recently, historically beer-laden Hudson hadn’t joined seemingly every other town in the Valley in welcoming a new brewery. Will Thibeault and PJ Birmingham couldn’t believe it either, so they opened Hudson Brewing Company last year — the first brewery in town since Prohibition — and dedicated it to preserving and promoting Hudson’s past.
Friends for years, the two locals first decided to jump into the business about three years ago. Thibeault, a longtime home brewer, designs and builds draft beer systems for bars and taprooms as his day job. Birmingham was “between things,” he says. “Will had been making beer in his garage, and it was the best beer I ever had.” Thus was a new business born.
The two started by renting extra space where Thibault already had his draft system operation. He built the microbrewery, and their first offering, an American Pale Ale, is still their best seller. Since then they have moved twice, and currently occupy an old warehouse that holds both a taproom and the brewing facility. They added head brewer Aaron Mass and assistant brewer Sal Taccetta to the team, and they now count 16 beers in their rotation — including an IPA, a kolsch, an Irish Red, a Brown, and an Irish stout — and each has a name that resonates with Hudson’s past: Wayward Woman, Widow’s Walk, Shady Sadie (a 19th-century pirate who trolled from Brooklyn upriver), Tainted Lady, Brazen Harlot, and Firkin Merkin (a firkin, for the uninitiated, is a 10-gallon keg; a merkin, for the uninitiated, is … well, let’s just say it’s not something you talk about in a family publication). Birmingham and Thibeault are concentrating more on increasing production and widening distribution, and hope to expand further, from their current five barrels to a 15-barrel system. “The beer has been taking off, and it’s hard keeping up with demand,” Thibault says.
Mixing the brew takes muscle.
Their product is currently available predominantly in Columbia County, with a few beachheads established in Dutchess, Greene, and Albany counties. The taproom, with up to 11 beers on tap, is open only Friday to Sunday, “from noon-ish to six-ish,” Birmingham says. It sports an “industrial chic” vibe, made from lots of repurposed materials, including one of Thibault’s draft systems made out of the rear axle of a truck. “It’s a cool, chill environment,” Thibault says. There is no food as of yet, but for entertainment patrons can look through a large window into the brewery and watch the beery magic happen.
Though the clientele no longer includes whalers, sailors, pirates, dancing girls, and merkin-wearers (what, you haven’t Googled it yet?), Hudson Brewing is still a fun place to remember the city’s past with award-winning beer that is very much of the present.